Archive for March, 2013

31
Mar

Cool rechargeable battery innovations that could revolutionize our future

Have you ever thought how different your life would be if all your electronic devices had to be plugged in to work? Not very convenient or portable now, are they? You would have to get up to change the channel on the TV, there would not be such a thing as a portable phone, or laptop that could be unplugged. We would have wires running everywhere!

Forget starting your car without being near an outlet, if the engine was shut off, there would not be a way to restart it. Regardless of the technology, there is typically some sort of battery inside that keeps the device going that we are not even aware of.

As detailed by Ovo Energy:

“Modern life as we know it owes a lot to the humble battery, the first incarnation of which came about in 1800. From the cumbersome monsters used in cars to the tiny lithium dots in watches, batteries are an integral part of our lives and have three main components: two electrodes (the positive anode and the negative cathode) and a medium called an electrolyte, which allows positively charged ions to move between the electrodes in balance with the flow of negatively charged electrons – this is the ‘useful current’, or the battery’s ‘zap’, for want of a better term.
The batteries we know and love are usually little cylindrical AA types – the kind that power TV remotes and cameras. Alas, as crucial as they’ve been to technological evolution, they’re not so great for the environment; they’re difficult and dangerous to get rid of, and their disposable nature means they’re pretty wasteful, too. But like all things in these techy times, plans are afoot to make batteries slimmer, cheaper, more efficient and better for the environment.”

We have some fascinating new technology coming soon that will only improve our interdependence upon the rechargeable battery. New discoveries such as Graphene, Flexible lithium-ion, as well as lithium-air batteries, where even oxygen is used as a catalyst.
By Michael Nace

28
Mar

grid-scale flow batteries may be a good addition to power grids

Startup EnerVault has a proposal for an economical to build grid-scale flow battery setup that emphasizes upon the use of a proprietary pump system. Flow battery design has proven to be a potential way to store power for off-hour use on today’s power grids.

This specific type of setup is ideal for fluctuating power needs, as capacity can be added as needed, separate from the power output of the grid. It also is easy to integrate into current installations, due to it’s modular design.

According to the source Technology Review:

Flow batteries use two big tanks of liquid electrolytes, which are circulated several times through a vessel where an electrochemical reaction takes place across a membrane. When connected to a load, a current is produced when electrons move from negative electrolyte to the positive. During recharge, a current is applied to reverse the reaction. Flow batteries are generally considered safe, an important issue for grid-scale batteries where thermal runaway of conventional batteries has caused fires at least two cases.

However the initial cost is still considered fairly high compared to other more economical solutions, such as pumped Hydro and compressed air storage methods, so more research will need to be done.

By Michael Nace

26
Mar

US is outsourcing its Lead-Acid battery recycling…to Mexico?

The United States is outsourcing a product, but not exactly for the typical reasons you might think. America is sending its Lead-Acid battery recycling to Mexico. Why, you ask? The laws governing safety concerns are much less restrictive across the border, than within the US.

The primary concern is the handling of the lead that is extracted from the used batteries. Mexican factories can blatantly ignore the issues with lead emissions spilling into the local environment, with regulations 1/10th as strict as the United States has specified.

As noted by the Miami Herald:

The result has been an ever-increasing surge in the trade of used batteries across the border. One watchdog group estimated that in 2011, the dead batteries headed to Mexico would have filled 17,952 tractor-trailers. And the trade keeps growing, the result of a stark regulatory gap that has left Mexico at risk of becoming a “pollution haven,” according to a Montreal-based commission that investigates environmental issues under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the economic accord between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Most American consumers have no clue what happens to their old rechargeable battery, and likely assume that the retail shop selling them the new one will take care and recycle it properly.

It is highly concerning that the US government does not regulate this sort of export, as mishandling of lead can cause serious medical issues if left untreated. It appears that the business cost of properly recycling the batteries locally is put ahead of the environmental impact this might create, perhaps just a few hundred miles away.
As stated by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – “there is no safe level of lead.”
 
By Michael Nace

24
Mar

Solar power may just have become competitive

Australian Renewable Energy Agency is being provided funding from the government to further research renewable energy storage solutions.

The company Ecoult would be developing upon the fundamentals of the Deka UltraBattery technology platform, which should produce a efficient model for future storage uses of residential and commercial locations.

A Deka UltraBattery is the combination of an enhanced power negative electrode in a lead-acid rechargeable battery. This design gives the battery a extremely low level of electrical resistance similar to a super-capacitor. By developing this type of battery, this eliminates the need for a separate bank of batteries and capacitors, along with the wiring requirements of combining the 2 grids together.

As observed by Energy and Capital:

In its early stages, the program aims at developing a battery storage system prototype for three main types of deficit charge or distributed energy needs. These include off-grid renewable power, distributed connected storage to support power and voltage fluctuations (especially in areas with a high concentration of rooftop solar installments), and hybrid generation of power to gain efficiencies.

Ecoult has make progress with the Deka platform in the past, with other installations around the globe. Currently, Ecoult is working on executing its installation at the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project, thus could reduce its reliance on older less environmentally friendly diesel power systems. Australia is making great strides in environmental advances toward reducing the number of fossil fuel power sources it is currently employing, and that something that we all can benefit from.
 
By Michael Nace

21
Mar

Ice Racer beats own record running Vapex batteries

As reported from the Wattsup-power Blog:

Jonas Gustavsson just broke broke his previous record! With a recent switch to Vapex branded rechargeable batteries, he was able to increase from 16.6kw to 18kw, with an average speed during the kilometer run of 154kmh.

 

The Vapex batteries held a higher constant voltage and delivered more power and RPM to the motor than his previous batteries, as well as holding a higher average of 3.55v/cell. The previous years batteries that were utilized were FlightTech 50C 5000 that only held 50v and were also much warmer. Jonas stated that the Vapex were barely warm after a race. Excessive heat in a battery under discharge shows indication of the battery struggling to keep up with the current draw placed upon it.

The only things that Jonas did on the Propster racer for this year was to upgrade the batteries to Vapex 30C 15s3p 5000mAh instead of 50C FlightTech 5000 15s3p. You read that correctly, a lower amperage rated battery outperformed a higher rated pack!

Extra capacitors were also wired to the speed controller, so there is no doubt that the Vapex batteries helped him to get the higher power and speed level to beat his own record. Jonas has made good PR in Swedish motorsport magazines, Swedish TV, on YouTube and on Facebook with this unique prop powered racer and the speed he has been able to squeeze out of his setup.

Did you know that Electronics Warehouse is the leading online retailer in Australia for Vapex rechargeable batteries?
 
By Michael Nace

19
Mar

Obama Administration is requesting $2 Billion for Electric Vehicle Research & Development funding

President Obama is expecting Congress to approve the use of royalties granted for the use of oil exploration to give $2 billion of funding for the Research and Development of advanced vehicle technologies over a ten-year period.

This funding is intended to be used across several fields of research, including new technologies in the rechargeable battery field for autos. Congress was not as strongly focused as President Obama was regarding this endeavor, as they only initially granted half of the $650 million that was initially requested for Electrical vehicle research.

As referenced by Gas2.org:

The research mentioned is for the development of electric vehicle, biofuel, battery, and compressed natural gas technology. The development of battery technology is important to both electric vehicles, as well as the electricity grid, and the entire effort to switch to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

It’s tremendous that the US President is pushing for advances in electric vehicles, and the associated battery technology that goes along with it, but is it realistic? President Obama has stated a goal of 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2015, just under 2 years from now. Even with the huge amount of funding being requested, the development of rechargeable battery technology will likely not happen so quickly as he has initially anticipated.

Hopefully this backing will be put to good use and we can see some future advancements in the electric vehicle as well as rechargeable battery developments, even if we do not reach the lofty goal of a million electrics whizzing down the road by 2015.
 
By Michael Nace

17
Mar

Did Boeing take too many risks with the Dreamliner batteries?

Boeing had quite a few risks when it embarked on it’s Dreamliner project.  Several pieces of the technology it put in place were an industry first, and seldom would a company debut them all on the same platform, such as the Dreamliner.

 

 

Most of the airplane was constructed out of Carbon Fiber, over a more traditional use of aluminum.  It is well known that Carbon Fiber is a very strong composite, but is it stiff as well as flexible as required by a plane flying in turbulence?  This was yet to be identified in testing. Also numerous pieces of the assembly were completely outsourced to other companies, instead of being developed by Boeing in-house.

Now comes the biggest concern over the design – Utilizing electric controls over traditional hydraulic systems typical of most all other planes.  Boeing knew they needed a rechargeable battery solution in place to power these controls in the event of failure of the electric generator system, and that is when they turned to lithium-ion.  The plane simply required more reserve power and additional lead-acid batteries would add too much weight to the plane.

As reported by the Economist:
Relying more heavily on electrical power than any other commercial jet, the 787 Dreamliner uses two 32-volt battery packs, containing eight lithium-ion cells apiece. These are not employed during normal flight, but are kept fully charged by the plane’s main generators ready to step in when needed.


Apart from being lighter than other rechargeable cells and able to operate at a higher voltage, lithium-ion batteries have no “memory effect” (the tendency to accept less and less charge each time they are recharged). They can also be charged faster than most other cells, and they hold their charge far longer.

The downside is that, if overcharged, physically damaged or allowed to get too hot, lithium-ion cells may experience thermal “runaway”—generating heat faster than it can be dissipated. A cell may then rupture, releasing inflammable gases that ignite and cause a fierce fire or an explosion.

However, it was determined after the 2 Dreamliner planes were examined, the charging systems were working as designed, and battery voltage was spot on.  Manufacturer problems on the assembly line were also ruled out, as the batteries were from different lots.

So far, air-safety investigators in both Japan and America agree that, in neither case, was there evidence of the batteries being overcharged. The flight recorders show their voltage was correct before the fires broke out. That would seem to rule out the charging system as the source of the problem. By the same token, it would suggest the battery-management system, which is used to keep the voltage within its prescribed limits, was working properly.

This leaves the problem potentially being in the actual wiring.  However as the cabling literally went up in smoke, it could not be properly examined.

The investigators also agree that the fires cannot be put down simply to a faulty batch of batteries. Their serial numbers suggest these came from different lots. It is therefore unlikely that manufacturing defects caused the short-circuits that made them overheat and catch fire. Unfortunately, with the fires having been so intense, any evidence of a fault lying in the actual wiring of the battery-management systems went up in smoke.

So we may never know what really happened, but all Boeing can really do is keep adding layers of system security to try to prevent future issues.

Or perhaps simply go back to using traditional rechargeable batteries is the best solution until safety measures can be insured, especially when the total weight savings of Li-ion over standard NiMH batteries is about the same as an extra piece of luggage.
 
By Michael Nace

14
Mar

Apple may get into the wireless device charging game – a new Patent appears

Apple may be seriously looking into the technology of wireless charging as a new patent shows up in a recent application that would embed inductive charging inside the Apple smart cover designed for iPads.

This is a different take than what we have typically seen for a wireless charging design for the internal rechargeable battery. Instead of being tethered directly to a power source, it appears that the Apple Smart Cover itself, would have battery cells of some type inside each panel. This would enable the cover itself to recharge the internal iPad battery when not in use, however it also brings the potential situation that you now have 2 items to recharge.

It was not mentioned what the recharge time might be via induction vs simply plugging the device in, but this would enable a much longer lifespan of usage when away from power for extended periods of time. Perhaps the ability to recharge via induction the Smart Cover is a possibility, when the iPad is plugged in itself? This would save the end user from having to remember to separately charge 2 unique devices.

As stated by Apple insider:

Charging occurs when the flap is covering the display, thus signaling that the device is not in use. Other embodiments describe methods in which the iPad can determine its own battery state and enable the inductive charging circuit when in “portable mode,” or not plugged into a power source.

Apple’s system is not completely wireless, however, as the cover itself needs to be charged. This is accomplished through a normal AC adapter, though the patent does note that solar cells can be disposed in the outer layers of the cover to harvest ambient energy.

Current iPads do not had this capability at this time, and highly likely could not be retrofitted for use. This is very interesting feature that we may see down the road if Apple decides to go forward with the technology.

12
Mar

Are current day rechargeables the restriction for future power-grids?

Several countries have been researching future development to convert their fossil fuel based power grids to a more environmentally friendly solution.  However, the greatest obstacle to overcome is not how to make the power – but how to store the excess power for use during times when the winds slow down and the sun goes down.

Currently we can’t control the weather, (well not yet, at least) so we are reliant upon Mother Nature’s random cycles for energy.  Therefore the requirement of how to store this excess and off-hour power for when it’s really needed comes into play.

 

 

As noted from Wired UK:

” That power needs to be stored somewhere so that it can be used, otherwise renewable energy can’t ever replace coal, oil, nuclear or similar plants that can output a reliable level of power whenever needed.

For that reliability, there are three main options: pumped hydroelectric storage (PHS), where water is pumped upwards into a reservoir where it can be released later; compressed air energy storage (CAES) where the air can be expanded again through turbines when needed; and batteries, of which there are many different types, each with their own maximum number of effective charge cycles. ”

PHS stands to be the most efficient of the options, but it has certain limitations on local landscape that severely affect where it can be made effective.  You can’t build a reservoir on flat land next to a solar panel grid, and it is quite costly to install wind turbines in the mountains where a reservoir might fit best.
Unfortunately the mountainous terrain areas as well as national parks appear to make ideal locations for a pumped hydroelectric storage location, but at what cost?

This is where rechargeable batteries can come into play.  If a battery could be developed to withstand the enormous number of cycles required, developers would have more control where they could build future power grids, and be less reliant on working around the location requirements of a pumped hydroelectric storage setup.  It would be more ideal to build a “eco-grid” on cheap land next to a town that requires the power, than to invade a national park where building is difficult and disruptive to the environment.

Additionally from Wired regarding the current status of the batteries we have available today:

” This is in large part because battery technology currently can’t handle enough charge cycles. Lithium-ion batteries can handle at most around 6,000 cycle, lead-acid batteries only 700, compared to more than 25,000 cycles for a PHS facility. Even though the material costs for large-scale batteries are more prohibitive than for PHS (rare-earth minerals versus what is often no more than concrete and steel), it’s the lifecycle of batteries that we’ll need to work on if we want to be able to rely on them as affordable parts of the grid. ”

As researchers continue to make progress on new technological breakthroughs on rechargeable batteries, we get closer to being able to locate future power grids in the most Eco-friendly locations, and out of our national parks and mountains.

10
Mar

What is better for your Digital Camera? NiMH or Alkaline?

This is often a question asked by new budding photographers, is what type of batteries to use in their camera that uses AA’s as the primary power source.  Do you use alkalines that have a higher initial starting voltage at 1.5v, or do you use rechargeables that have a lower 1.2v?

 

National News Today states:
Can NiMH batteries be substituted for alkaline batteries?
Yes. For most high drain applications, NiMH batteries are the perfect substitute to an alkaline battery. Even though alkaline batteries are rated at a nominal 1.5 volts, they only deliver 1.5 volts when they are fully charged. As they begin to discharge, the voltage of the alkaline battery will continue to decrease. Over the course of their discharge, alkaline batteries average 1.2 volts, which is very close to the 1.2 volts of a NiMH battery. The main difference is that an alkaline battery starts at 1.5 volts and gradually drops to less than 1.0 volts. NiMH batteries stay at 1.2 volts for most of their discharge cycle.

Why do my alkaline batteries run down so quickly when used in my digital camera?
Alkaline batteries are not designed to meet the high power demands of most electronic devices. Alkaline batteries have a high rated capacity, but they can only deliver their full capacity if the power is used slowly. Digital cameras place a high power drain on batteries, so it is much better to use rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries for this type of device. Lithium ion rechargeable camera batteries also work well in high drain applications like digital cameras but are often much more expensive.


Another great feature with NiMH is the potential discharge current these batteries are capable of.  If you are using a built in flash, you should see quicker recovery times while using NiMH vs Alkaline as they are capable of faster recovery after a high power surge.

Time to head over to Electronics Warehouse for some rechargeables today.




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